Joseph P Walshe, GCPO, KCSG
1886 - February 1956. Secretary Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs), retired as ambassador to the Holy See, 1946-1954. Awarded the Order of the Sword and Cape in 1954 with the rank of papal chamberlain, see article on “Award to President Eamon de Valera of the Supreme Order of Christ”.
He was born in the largely agricultural and coal mining region of Killenaule, County Tipperary in 1886. In 1893 he joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) as a novice. Two years later he was sent by them to study in the Netherlands with exiled French members of the order. Walsh returned to Ireland where he studied at Mungret College, Co. Limerick, and began teaching at the prestigious Jesuit-run boarding school of Clongowes Wood. He left the order in 1916 due to illness, before studying for a general law degree at University College Dublin. He went on to obtain a masters degree in French.
Having completed his studies, Walsh went on holidays to France where he met with Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh subsequently President of Ireland and also a papal knight, whom he had known at the University. Ó Ceallaigh had been sent to Paris in 1919 to lobby the international delegates for recognition of the revolutionary Irish Republic at the Paris Peace Conference. While the Irish War of Independence continued, Walshe worked with Ó Ceallaigh and his small team for international recognition of the nascent government of which he was now an employee, and which the British authorities considered illegal. Walsh was formally engaged in Paris from 1 November 1920 until his recall to Dublin.
Joseph Walshe was responsible for guiding the fledgling Foreign Service for twenty-four years and much of the infrastructure of the service was built by him and those he directed. Recalled to Ireland from Paris in 1922 as the Treaty split the country and with only a short time as a diplomat behind him, Joseph Walshe went on to serve twenty-four years as acting secretary and then secretary of the External Affairs department. His inexperience was echoed by the inexperience of all those who ran departments in the emerging Free State.
His first challenge was to establish External Affairs as a strong, independent department despite the general opinion that it was unnecessary. Despite his initial opposition to Fianna Fáil and his fears that they posed a threat to the state, he subsequently worked closely with de Valera when his party came to power in 1932. During the second world war he was deeply involved in maintaining the states policy of friendly neutrality despite pressure from British and later American diplomats and politicians.He retired to Rome and died and was buried in Cairo of cardiac asthma on 6 February 1956.
Reference: Joseph Walshe: Irish foreign policy 1922–1946,. Aengus Nolan, Mercier Press (2008).